Speech to the ASPI Darwin Dialogue


I begin today by acknowledging that we meet on the land of the Larrakia people, the Traditional Custodians, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including those here today.

Thank you to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Executive Director Justin Bassi and Invest NT for organising this inaugural dialogue, and for the invitation to speak.

And can I of course acknowledge the ambassadors in the room this morning, representing The Netherlands, India and Japan. This representation indicates the great and diverse international interest in Australia’s vast and unique endowment of critical minerals and rare earth elements.

This dialogue provides us with an opportunity to explore the strategic challenges facing the critical minerals sector broadly, and the rare earths industry specifically.

It gives us the chance to look at how these challenges relate to broader security concerns both nationally and regionally.

And, importantly, it’s an opportunity to examine how we can work with likeminded partners on supply chains.

As our region and the world come to grips with the enormous challenge of decarbonising our economies, we are becoming increasingly aware that rare earth elements and critical minerals are likely to become fundamental to the modern economy and of crucial global importance.

The global transition to clean energy, as well as new technologies in the communication and defence sectors are seeing demand for critical minerals grow exponentially.

Last week at the ASPI Sydney Dialogue my colleague Defence Minister Richard Marles spoke about the need for Australia to be at the cutting edge scientifically to advance our interests in the world.

The most basic building blocks of those technologies are critical minerals and rare earth elements.

The events of recent years have seen COVID-driven supply chain disruptions, energy price spikes, and geopolitical tensions spilling over into armed conflict.

Global critical minerals supply chains are highly concentrated.

These events have shown that market concentration leads to fragility, volatility, and unreliability of key materials, like critical minerals and rare earths.

This creates a strategic challenge for Australia, and for our allies and partners.

But with our vast reserves of critical minerals and rare earth elements, it also presents a once in a generation opportunity for Australia.

An opportunity to develop not just new mining projects, but downstream processing and supply chains.

China enjoys an unchallenged position across many aspects of the global critical minerals market, having invested in its sector for decades.

This has, in many ways, benefitted other countries.

The scale of China’s manufacturing and demand has played a key role in driving down the cost of crucial technologies like solar cells, rechargeable batteries, and electric motors.

Working together, likeminded partners can build new, diverse, resilient and sustainable supply chains as part of a global hedge against concentration.

Diversity, as opposed to concentration, is an intrinsic good and in the interest of all nations.

In this regard, I want to particularly acknowledge and welcome the leadership and foresight of the US and Japan.

The US Inflation Reduction Act brings an unprecedented level of horsepower to the twin challenges of tackling climate change and diversifying supply chains.

And, of course, Japan has for many years shown the world how to take pragmatic and decisive action to diversify these markets with their far-sighted and patient support for Lynas Rare Earths Inc.

Australia is in an excellent position to play a globally significant role.

We have extraordinary deposits of critical minerals, including rare earths elements, a highly skilled mining sector, a stable investment environment, strong regulatory arrangements, and robust environmental, social and governance standards.

It’s why we enjoy a reputation as a trusted strategic partner to many of the world’s major economies.

We can build on our advantages, countering national and regional supply risks by building our processing capabilities and moving up the value chain.

By establishing new sources of supply for critical minerals, and by playing a greater role in onshore processing, we can help make these markets stronger, more efficient, more resilient, and more transparent.

This will require a lot of time, effort, and investment, and cannot be done without strong international partnerships and cooperation.

Domestically, the development of Australia’s new Critical Minerals Strategy will help set a course for growing our sector in a way that creates local economic opportunity, develops new sovereign capabilities and industries, and builds diverse, resilient, and sustainable supply chains.

This Strategy complements work across government in industry policy, like the National Battery Strategy and National Reconstruction Fund, our ambitious emissions reduction targets, and our foreign and trade policy objectives.

Rare earth elements in particular, are vital for a range of decarbonisation, defence and commercial technologies, including batteries, high-powered magnets and electronic equipment.

An iPhone, for example, contains eight different rare-earth minerals, and there are probably a couple in your refrigerator and washing machine.

According to Lynas, 7000 tonnes of NdPr oxide is needed in the manufacture of 10 million EVs, and 5000 tonnes for the same number of hybrids. To give you an indication, the total number of registered vehicles in Australia in 2022 was more than 20 million.

In the rare earths sector, Australia is currently only involved in mining and beneficiation stages of the lengthy and complex rare earths supply chain.

But Australia is moving to bring new projects online, diversifying supply of raw and processed materials, and creating good-paying jobs including right here in the Northern Territory.

Hastings’ Yangibana project will see rare earth carbonates produced at a hydrometallurgy plant being constructed at Onslow in the Pilbara.

The government is supporting this project through loans totalling more than $300 million.

Lynas is the largest global producer of processed rare earth products outside of Chinese supply chains and is well advanced on bringing its Kalgoorlie Project online.

The facility will crack, leach, and upgrade rare earths concentrate from Mount Weld that is currently exported to the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in Malaysia.

Iluka Resources is progressing its Rare Earths Refinery at Eneabba north of Perth, which will move Australia even further downstream to the production of rare earth oxides.

This project is supported by a $1.25 billion loan through the Australian Government’s Critical Minerals Facility.

Once operational, it will be Australia’s first fully integrated rare earth oxide refinery and contribute up to nine per cent of the global rare earth oxide market.

Besides helping to diversify the downstream supply chain, these projects give Australia a processing base to further grow our manufacturing sector. Our ongoing government to government bilateral engagement is crucial to creating frameworks that enable investment and commercial agreements to build a resilient, commercially viable critical minerals and rare earths elements sector.

For example Australia and Japan’s economies are highly complementary – our raw and processed critical minerals are key inputs into Japan’s advanced manufacturing industry.

We boast globally significant endowments of several critical minerals.

But we don’t have the capital to develop the nation’s critical minerals projects on our own.

Foreign investment from likeminded partners will be crucial to getting Australian projects off the ground. Just as it was critical to get our iron ore and LNG industries going decades ago. They are now the backbone of the national economy.

In October 2022, I signed a new Japan-Australia Critical Minerals Partnership with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Investment.

This partnership establishes a framework for building secure critical mineral supply chains between Australia and Japan.

Japan have been supporting Lynas Rare Earths for over a decade with a loan facility on favourable terms.

I warmly welcome the recent decision to invest an additional $200 million from Japan Australia Rare Earths.

The US has also supported Australia’s Lynas Rare Earths through its $US120m contract to establish a heavy rare earths refinery in Texas.

The refinery will be fed by Australian ore, support the US’s domestic supply of rare earths, and deepen ties between our countries’ critical minerals industries.

On Tuesday this week Australian company Arafura Resources announced the signing of an offtake agreement with Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy in Germany. The offtake agreement is for the supply of NdPr from the Company’s Nolans Project to Siemens Gamesa over a five-year term with the possibility of extension.

The NdPr from Nolans will be used in the manufacture of permanent magnets used in offshore wind turbines assembled at Siemens Gamesa’s Cuxhaven production facility in Germany, where all components for the hub, generator and backend are assembled into the turbine and then shipped globally.

In July 2022, alongside US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, I witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Arafura and major US company General Electric.

And it would be remiss of me not to mention investments from Ford, GM, Albemarle and other US companies in the Australian critical minerals sector – even though these fall outside of the rare earths focus of this conference.

We are committed to building robust, responsible critical mineral supply chains - supply chains that support economic prosperity, create jobs in Australia and deliver on climate objectives.

These agreements between Australian companies and international companies in Asia, the US and Europe shows how Australian businesses are partnering and investing to secure supply chains and accelerate the global transition to net-zero emissions.

There is a groundswell of international interest which I am determined will lead to action to build this important resilience.

Last week I signed an agreement with Germany’s Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Dr Franziska Brantner, in Perth for our two countries to work together to create new opportunities for critical minerals projects.

Earlier that same week I signed a statement of intent on critical minerals with the United Kingdom’s Minister for the Indo Pacific, Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

And in March, India’s Honourable Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Coal and Mines, Shri Pralhad Joshi and I reached a major agreement in working towards investment in critical minerals projects to develop supply chains between our two counties.

I am proud that Australia stands alongside the US and Japan, among others, as members of the Minerals Security Partnership.

This partnership as an important vehicle to achieve these goals.

And, along with France and Canada, we play a key leadership role in other multilateral fora – such as the International Energy Agencies’ Critical Minerals Working Party.

Strengthening the critical minerals sector is undeniably a priority for Australia and our strategic partners.

Australia’s rich critical mineral endowments provide an ideal opportunity to work alongside our partners to improve supply chains for clean energy transition, defence, and infrastructure.

The development of supply chains will take time and concerted effort, but it’s incredibly important.

Today I wanted to emphasise the importance of international collaboration in the rare earths elements and critical minerals sector.

I hope I’ve done that.

Australia will need to build on all its existing international relationships to ensure all of these important agreements translate into action and the ultimate achievement of diverse, robust and secure supply chains of critical minerals and rare earth elements that the world will need for the technologies that help us reach a decarbonised world.

The Australian Government will lean into this national effort to facilitate the international investment required to create an expansive critical minerals and rare earths element sector for the benefit of Australia and its partners.

Again, thank you for this opportunity, and please enjoy the rest of the dialogue.